In the current Rolling Stone cover story, Vanessa Grigoriadis documents Justin Bieber’s rise from YouTube phenomenon to teen heartthrob – but Bieber wouldn’t sound the same without his guitarist and musical director Dan Kanter. In 2009, Kanter was studying musicology at Toronto’s York University when he got a call from a rep at Universal, searching for someone to lead Bieber’s band.
“We both played drums, are from Canada and like hockey, so we really hit it off,” Kanter says. “I didn’t really know then how big it would become.” Since then, he’s worked as a producer on Bieber’s My Worlds Acoustic, appeared in Never Say Never and played venues from Wembley Stadium to Madison Square Garden.
Kanter spoke to Rolling Stone about what it was like to have Bieber sing at his wedding, the most surprising stars to show up backstage and when he knew he was involved in a phenomenon.
You joined Justin’s band in the summer of 2009. Did you know what you were in for when you started? Had the mania begun?
It was right when “One Time” came out. It had begun, but on a much more grassroots level. When I came in, we would go to places and there would be thousands of kids, and no one knew who he was except these kids who had been following him for the last two years and really felt that ownership over him. Then it just blew up in the mainstream.
Do you remember the moment when you knew that this was a phenomenon?
For me, the most memorable moment was when we were in France for the first time, and we played an acoustic show. We came out onstage, and he sang “One Last Lonely Girl.” We opened with that song in a club in Paris, and as soon as he broke into the lyrics in French, the whole place erupted and sang every word for the next hour.
What’s been your craziest moment, personally?
I got married in October, and Justin came and performed with our wedding band and I played guitar. The next day, it was all over the press. Who would have ever thought that my wedding would be [like that]? Later, I was overseas in Japan and some kids were saying, ‘Dan, mazel tov, congratulations!’ I’ve been in cars with him where kids are climbing on top of the car and, and that’s scary. But for him, it’s exciting.
Because of all the performing, are Justin and you able to speak all day at full volume?
Justin speaks at a full volume, but he doesn’t yell. He really takes care of [his voice]. When he goes home and hangs out with his friends and he comes back and his voice is a little hoarse, but day to day, he’s pretty good about it. He discovered this comedian, Mitch Hedberg. I think we were on an escalator, and I said, “I love escalators, because when they break, they just become stairs,” and ever since then he always imitates that voice, and we tell him, “That’s not good for your voice,” in that Bob Dylan voice.
Is he a Dylan fan at all?
Through me, he’s gotten into Bob Dylan. I just walked into his dressing room the other day and he was blasting “All Along the Watchtower.” He likes Michael Jackson as much as he likes Metallica, and he’s into all sorts of hip-hop. He’s also going through a huge Beatles phase right now, and I’m trying to teach him about Phish and how great they are. We actually met Trey [Anastasio] at a show. He brought his daughter to see a Bieber show, and what a world colliding there that was.
I’ll say. What was that like?
It was quite funny. Scooter [Braun, Bieber’s manager], said to Justin, “This is the reason why all my friends dropped out of college.”
Have you been surprised to see anyone else backstage?
Sure, the big one for me was Duff from Guns N’ Roses. That was so exciting.
Did he bring one of his kids?
Yeah, his daughter, that was very exciting, and we got to chat with Johnny Depp backstage…Justin has become friends with Kobe, that’s huge. The craziest one – who has been to two shows – is Bob Weir. I told him he’s a Bieberhead. His daughter loves Justin, and he’s been out to a few shows. I see him in the audience and I throw picks at him. That’s a real trip to meet him. He’s very interested in Justin, and it’s always exciting when we get to play in the Bay Area.
Why do you think he’s had this mass effect?
At the very end of the day, he’s very likable. Everyone seems to really love him at the moment, and it’s because he’s a really good person, and that comes through in his singing, in his playing, in his interviews. His story is unreal. He really is from a small town in Canada, put up some YouTube videos, and here he is.